A Fort Worth firm has followed up a concussion lawsuit filed against the NCAA and Big 12 Conference with a second suit, this one against football helmet maker Riddell, claiming the company failed to protect high school and college players who wore their helmets from long-term head injuries and did not educate them about the risks.
Filed Monday in a California court, where Riddell is based, by the firm Circelli, Walter & Young, the suit seeks damages for healthcare costs, lost wages and other personal injury damages. The suit alleges that Riddell misrepresented in its marketing the safety of its helmets by using a self-funded scientific study to promote its helmets as significantly reducing the risk of concussions compared with other manufacturers’ helmets. The company has been the focus of ongoing litigation as a result of its claims.
Following a study by the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center about a decade ago, Riddell marketed its “Revolution” line of helmets by saying players who wore their helmets were 31 percent less likely to suffer a concussion. In 2000, a biomechanics firm sent Riddell a report showing that no football helmet, no matter how revolutionary, could prevent concussions.
“Our complaint against Riddell is that Riddell designed and marketed a line of helmets that they claimed would reduce concussions when in reality they knew that marketing claim was false,” Fort Worth attorney Vincent Circelli said. “Players relied on this concussion reduction marketing and suffered multiple concussions while wearing Riddell helmets.”
Riddell was hit with two lawsuits within a week last July. Paul Hornung, a Hall of Fame running back with the Green Bay Packers, sued Riddell, asserting the company knew of the dangers of brain trauma, but did not warn him and other players that their helmets would not prevent concussions. A week later, a group of NFL players sued claiming Riddell did not warn them about long-term health risks, such as the degenerative brain disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), that its helmets would not protect them from.
All plaintiffs in the suit filed Monday suffer from some degree of traumatic brain injuries from multiple concussions or sub-concussive hits, suffered while playing football, according to the lawsuit. Circelli, Walter & Young are joining forces with the law firm of Joseph H. Low IV to pursue Riddell cases in California.
Riddell issued a lengthy statement Wednesday morning.
“Late to jump on the bandwagon, this latest lawyer-driven concussion lawsuit comes more than five years after the first of these cases was filed in July, 2011. Nowhere in their rambling 43-page complaint and accompanying press release do plaintiffs acknowledge that a previous NCAA player lawsuit containing similar allegations was voluntarily dismissed last year after multiple failed attempts by the lawyers behind that case to plead successful class claims against Riddell.
The statement said the suit represents “overt lawyer self-promotion and meritless litigation” and that it harms organizations such as Riddell, the game of football and the “millions of participants whose lives have been enriched by the benefits of sports participation.”
‘Not supported by the law’
On Jan. 20, Circelli’s firm filed a lawsuit in federal court in Indiana in which five players, including former TCU linebacker and defensive end Jarrod Blake Roberts, who played from 2010 to 2014, say they suffer from symptoms indicative of long-term brain injuries. The suit accuses the NCAA and Big 12 of sacrificing player safety in favor of profits and self-promotion.
The NCAA, which has settled one lawsuit involving concussions and players for $75 million that allows for medical monitoring, said the suit offers “nothing new or unique” from similar cases pending in an Illinois federal court.
“The theories in this case, like the others, simply are not supported by the law,” Donald Remy, NCAA chief legal officer, said in a prepared statement.
All five plaintiffs in the suit played at Big 12 schools, including two at Oklahoma, one at Texas and one at Texas Tech. A Big 12 spokesman said the conference had no comment about the lawsuit.
More lawsuits coming
Heather Hughston, a spokeswoman for the Fort Worth law firm, said it plans to file additional lawsuits naming other college sports and conferences.
Circelli said his firm has acquired roughly 92 clients — and expects to have between 150 and 200 over the next month — through ads that have aired on local TV and radio stations. Circelli said about 380 former players have filled out a survey that can be accessed on his law firm’s website. The survey is designed to determine the symptoms of former players and their eligibility to join the class action.
“The NCAA promised this is what you get for your sweat and hard work: You get an education and you get to come to one of these great schools,” Circelli said after filing the suit against the NCAA and Big 12. “The sad thing is that these football concussion injuries rob some of these athletes of that very thing. You are going to get this education, but for certain athletes, they’re not able to finish school, or they are not able to keep a job. That kind of trade-off is particularly sad.”
Jeff Caplan: 817-390-7705, @Jeff_Caplan